kurt schwitters merzbau
In addition to the archives, the Sprengel MuseumвЂ™s galleries also hold a reconstruction of the MerzbauвЂ™s main room, made in 1981вЂ“83 by Peter Bissegger. Bissegger based his reconstruction on RedemannвЂ™s photographs as well as careful reading of archival letters. As a static, unchanging room, the reconstruction canвЂ™t be fully accurate, but itвЂ™s still wonderful to duck into this three-dimensional space and imagine what it must have been like back when Schwitters was alive and working.
Which is why I was in Hannover that rainy day: to go to the Sprengel Museum, which houses the Kurt Schwitters Archive. This amazing resource holds letters and accounts from SchwittersвЂ™s friends, family, and even MoMA curators and department directors. I work in the Museum Archives here at MoMA, and so IвЂ™m happily familiar with the letters we hold from Schwitters in our Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers and Exhibition Files, particularly those for the influential exhibitionВ Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (December 7, 1936вЂ“January 17, 1937). At the Sprengel Museum, I could piece together the letters from our archives with the letters in theirs, and thus construct a kind of narrative of the Merzbau. I discovered that when you’re trying to understand something like the Merzbau, archives like these are critical. Through the written word, you can get an idea of not just what the space was like in a specific moment, but how it developed and grew, the methods of its expansion, even what the rooms smelled like.
Kurt Schwitters: The end wall of the Elterwater Merz Barn in the Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle. Photo courtesy The Hatton Gallery.
The Merz Barn installation in its original setting in the Barn, c. 1950.
Photo: Wilhelm Redemann, 1933 © DACS 2007
Bissegger’s task was a very difficult one: he did not have the exact measurements or scale of the room and had to work by complicated geometric calculations based on the only hard evidence, the photographs, some vague floor plans of the flat as well as on the recollection of the artist’s son, who had seen the room forty-four years previously when he was eighteen years old. Bissegger managed to find out what kind of camera lens and focal length (14.1 cm, Protar wide-angle camera) were used. Fortunately, there was one point that appeared on all three photographs which enabled him to calculate the three-dimensional model.
Kurt Schwitters: Gold Grotto, 1925
Kurt Schwitters: The Merz Barn installation. Photo Ernst Schwitters. Copyright Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Archive, Sprengel Museum, Hanover
Scrap wood, cord, cardboard, wool, leather and wire mesh and oil on canvas – Museum of Modern Art, New York
German Painter, Collagist, and Writer